Manuel Curto Gracia
Many times people have asked me in reference to the Presa Canario’s character, if it is tender with children, fond of the family and a good watchdog. “And, is the Presa Canario a good watchdog? Because I’ve been told….this and that.” To this query I must respond that in as far as uniformity of behavior in the Presa Canario is concerned, there is none. There should be, but there isn’t. Though I must also immediately try to explain that there are Presas and there are Presas, if you get my drift. I mean, Presa Canario in itself is just a denomination of origin, like with wines. Presa Canario dogs are not made in series. But, no, you don’t understand. How could you? A priori in your head you have this fixed idea, this completely false idea that has been sold to you, about how the Presa Canario dog is. “But, tell me,” you may insist from the other end of the telephone line, or via e-mail or even by letter, “how does the dog behave within a family setting?” “Is it as fierce as it is made out to be?” “And, is it true that the Presa Canario dog has been included on the list of dangerous dogs?”
Others tell me that they want a Presa Canario to win shows. Another may want it for hunting wild boar; he may cross it with a Pitbull and sell the pups as Spanish Alanos, which are the finest dogs for hunting wild boar, they say, with more lust for money in their eyes than search for truth. True. Alfonso X (the Wise) spoke of them (the opportune historical citation necessary for making the product more palatable for sale). Yet another person may want it for watching his flat, “but I don’t want it to eat up all my furniture. Do you think it will eat up my furniture? Because if you think it will, well, my wife will kick me out, or get a divorce, or move in with her mother, or leave me.” Yet another: “And, what about the cat? Do you think that it will do something to the cat? Because I have a cat in my flat, well, it’s not really mine. It’s my wife’s. I’m a dog person myself. Can’t stand the sight of cats…” Someone else is interested in Presas Canarios for breeding purposes, because he’s heard that Presas sell well: “I’m going to get rid of the Rottweilers because they’re going out of fashion with all this anti-dangerous dog campaign going on in Spain. You know? I want the pups completely guaranteed, two months old and with all guarantees, dysplasia-free, big, yeah, big and with big bones, no undershot bite, scissor bite, brindle coat if possible, and with an excellent temperament, like you write about in your articles. I want pure ones, not those cross-bred ones.” Then there are those that want a Presa Canario to watch their house, so that no one breaks and enters, “…and since I’ve been told that they are really calm dogs, I hope that it won’t ruin my lawn or flowers. I used to have a Belgian Malinas Shepherd that ate up everything, that S.O.B. I had to give it away, as much as it hurt. And the kids were against me for getting rid of it…Well, you can just imagine.” And then there is the guy (or girl) who has already had every type of dog there is and is disappointed, very disappointed. Now they are going to go for the Presa Canario because they’ve been told that it’s the most rustic, primitive, distrustful, fierce, biting, sickness-resistant, little-eating dog around. “It this true? Because, jeez, some breeds just eat so much! And they are so demanding! You know, I’ve heard that the Presa Canario is what gave the name to these islands, from Latin “can” (canine), because back in the times of Juba II these dogs already populated these islands. Isn’t that right, Mr. Curtó? You, who’ve studied so much on the topic, must know…?
THE IDEAL PERRO DE PRESA CANARIO
There is no such thing as an ideal dog breed (nor is there such thing as an order-made dog), except for in the movies, where we can see a dog that is good at everything, understands everything (even to the point of anticipating its master’s desires), the dog that saves the child from drowning, saves the blind-man from getting hit by a careless driver, and keeps our house from being broken into and keeps our jewels safe, and all. In short, a dog that will bring our slippers to the living room so that we won’t have to bother with getting up ourselves. This is a movie cock-and-bull story that has had an awful lot of influence on credulous minds. Therefore, it is needless to say that the ideal Presa Canario dog does not exist. There is a racial pattern which describes the dog, and in the second paragraph it reads, “It’s appearance is extraordinarily strong. Severe stare. Especially gifted for watch and defense. Strong temperament. Low and deep bark. Noble and tame among family and distrusting of strangers.” In essence, we have a robot portrait of the Presa Canario dog. It goes beyond saying that this is the ideal to be achieved, but not the real, everyday Presa. How do we attain it? By selecting the most appropriate specimens for breeding. “But, is it then that not all Presas bring together these qualities?”, the layperson may ask. No, not all. Not even the majority. And let’s see why. Back in the early 1970’s we started the reconstruction of the breed. Our ideas were apparently clear: we had to breed a strong Presa that was rustic, massive and functional, one with a sharp watchdog instinct and strong temperament, calm yet arrogant, and very territorial. That was the project that lay before us. And that still is my personal project; they still are the rules which I use to guide my breeding of Presas. But the problem is that the Breed Standard says that the dog is like that. But I repeat that although it is what the Standard says, it is not the present-day reality of the Presa Canario. The mental qualities–and the guard instinct is a mental quality-of the majority of Presas Canarios is fairly absent. When the Presa Canario breed standard was drawn up, there were very few specimens around. And the few that there were had very little value, from whatever angle you looked at them. Furthermore, none of them properly fit the standard description. This is why I speak of an ideal to be attained and not of a collective of real, uniform Presas that have genetic constants which have invariably been passed down from generation to generation. No, type and behavioral diversity in Presas Canarios was and still is great, due to crossing it with many different breeds over a 25-year period. In preceding articles I have made detailed reference to the different dog breeds that have been used to get “Presas Canarios”, over this long period of time. Some of these breeds have lent a molosser type to the dog, though they suffer from lack of temperament and the desired guard instinct. In fact, the products of this specific crossbreeding are the ones that have received the most prizes in shows, ever since the CEPPC was formed. And this clearly goes against what is described in the standard. It has been the Perro de Ganado Majorero (Majorero Cattledog) which has lent the breed maximum qualities. But be warned that not all Presas Canarios have genetic heritage from this genuinely Canarian breed. The ones from the island of Gran Canaria do, but the ones from Tenerife (with the exception of IREMA CURTÓ and some other) do not. This is why there are many Presas Canarios with an important percentage of Perro Majorero blood in them, which are also wonderful watchdogs, with sharp senses of territoriality. The biggest problem for these Presas is officialdom. That is to say, the Club’s specialist judges, which in turn are almost all breeders themselves, value more the other type of Presa, which carries more characteristics of the Great Dane, the Bullmastiff, the English Bulldog, etc. And since the monographic and special prizes of the breed have been so deemed by these very judges, well, that’s where the Special Show winners, the Monographic Show winners and the Champion of Spain winners come from-with the exception of one or two. The Perro de Ganado Majorero, the real one, is almost extinct nowadays due to abandonment and chance breeding. Yet it is also the base, the ideal prime material for pulling forth the Presa Canario as a functional animal. And to the extent that the Perro Majorero is predominant in the Presa Canario, with proper selection, generation after generation, the guard instinct will be guaranteed. Otherwise, the Presa Canario will become a mere and vulgar show dog with no future.
The Perro de Ganado Majorero has it all: genetic consistency, rusticity (hence resistance to illnesses and hard weather conditions), and guard instinct. It does not need special training in order to defend its territory. Its braveness and sureness in attack have no match.
“Is it really like you say?” one Presa Canario fan from Madrid asked me. “That’s how it is. Undoubtedly,” I responded. “So then, why have you put so much effort and time into the Presa Canario, instead of centering in on the recuperation of the Perro de Ganado Majorero?” My Madrid friend’s logic left me speechless. In that moment I didn’t know what to say. Nevertheless, for some time I have had these ideas forming in my head on the topic. If the gods are willing, I will thresh it out in another article.
Since the majority of Presas Canarios (like I said before, with no genetic concentration from the Perro Majorero) did not have good results with regards to guarding, defending, and attacking, some breeders saw blue skies in Staffords and American Pitbulls. Some, a few, have also used Bullterriers. One smart Aleck in Gran Canaria even used the Fila Brasileiro. There are mixes of these dogs in the States, and in some other places on earth. All of them “with papers”, of course. I have had the opportunity to observe these some of these specimens at great length. And I have even, per se, “tried out” more than one. Physical aspect aside, I can say that their behavior has nothing to do with the ideal we seek to attain. These dogs are obsessive biters, incapable of living with other pets. They are very active, too much so compared with what old country folk tell us about the Presas that they used to have in their country houses. Let us not forget that Presa dogs from back then served several purposes: they guarded their territory, they defended, they accompanied cattle to the pastures and stayed there with them, etc. “Those Presas, the ones from here, were more serious, less apt to play, much more distrusting of strangers. And they were silent, they didn’t bark much; but when they did bark, it was deep and cavernous. They never bit without a reason. Just their presence and their growl was more than enough to dissuade any stranger. Nope. You didn’t fool around with those dogs.” I wrote this in 1985. The way of breeding them must have also had an effect-raising them in an environment where from birth they were conditioned to react in their own particular way.
For a long time now people at all levels have been talking a lot about the lack of racial uniformity in the Presa Canario dog. In fact, I was the first one to even bring up the issue. I was called everything in the book for that one. But from the very beginning I reported on indiscriminate crossbreeds done with all types of dogs, and how things had gotten out of hand. But worse, much worse than the lack of racial uniformity in as far as external appearance, is the lack of behavioral uniformity. In direct relationship with the dog at hand I would like to cite the example of the Pure Blood English horse. Today nobody would question the racial purity of that horse. But, how did this purity come about? Through the selection of the finest race specimens for breeding. And which ones were the most apt for racing? The fastest, the ones that made first place. Period. Today, and for a long time, the Pure Blood English horse is “the” race horse par excellence. And not just that. It is one of the best for classic riding, for jumping, etc. And the only better you can get than that is the Pure Blood Arabian horse (from which in great part it originally descends, anyway). The Pure Blood English horse has never been selected for its external appearance based on some so-called standard that was set forth a priori. No. And the results are right out there to be seen.
With respect to the Presa Canario dog I believe that the only valid formula for improving it as a functional animal is meticulous observation of the behavior of those specimens we wish to use for breeding purposes. Not only should they have the correct morphophenotype, healthy hips, optimal mental balance and temperament. Special attention should also be paid to their guard instinct. From the time they are pups (if they are raised right, living from the very beginning in an open space with a minimum number of restrictions, barriers, walls, fences, allowed to develop a sense of security which doesn’t hinder their self-protection instinct from awakening) until they are one or one and a half years old there is more than enough time to evaluate their qualities as a watchdog and defender, and whether or not it is a good dog for breeding purposes. It’s also very important in this respect to bear in mind the quality of the dog’s ancestors, at least three or four generations back. Genetic heritage is what’s important. We cannot expect good products from mediocre or poor ancestors. It is a good idea to not overlook something that is frequently confused, and that is temperament with guard instinct. These are two distinct qualities which are translated (in part) into two distinct behaviors. Let’s take the example of the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. There are lots of these dogs that respond very well to attack training, pursuit/chase/hunt training, etc., yet which fail to have guard instinct. This has an explanation. These dogs were selected in and for fighting, exclusively. They were never selected for guarding and defending. This does not mean that some individual specimens of these breeds (albeit FEW) under determined circumstances behave as excellent watchdogs. There are Presas Canarios that if duly trained work well in civilian training, but they are not good watchdogs. And what we’re most interested in with the Presa Canario is precisely the guard instinct, without undervaluing the other above-mentioned qualities, which are also very important.
Manuel Curto Gracia
Published at UKCPRESA United Perro de Presa Canario Club website
- Old photos of Presa Canarios - 14 February 2020
- The Character of the Presa Canario – by Paloma Iglesias Sanz - 29 January 2020
- History and Theories Surrounding the Origin of the Presa Canario - 29 January 2020